The best book of 2011

2011 was the year of nonfiction. As in, I’ve never read so much of it in my life.

This is neither good nor bad. I always read fiction, because it’s my passion. I mean, I majored in creative writing. When I wasn’t writing or deconsctructing novels, I took classes in philosophy. Oh, and Spanish…where I read more novels.

Now, I’m working for myself. My biggest fear leaving the corporate environment is that I’d stop honing my craft. I learned so much from a variety of mentors that I feared my skills would stagnate when I left the office environment.

The exact opposite has happened. In my last roundup of books, I included a healthy dose of business texts. I’ve learned more about sales and marketing in the last 6 months than my entire career.

That said, I’m underwhelmed by most of the business books I read. The abundance of derivative information makes me stabby.

I suppose it’s similar to fiction’s beach reads. The plot lines are thin and repetitive. I don’t know why I expect all non-fiction to be masterpiece. It’s not fair to the genre.

All this to say, it’s rare that I’m wowed by a business book.

Which is why I’m 100% comfortable telling you that Derek Sivers’ Anything You Want was the best book I read this year.


1. It’s a quick read. If you’re starting or running your own business, I recommend read it this week week. This is totally doable. It took me just over an hour to finish, and I was taking notes the entire time.

2. Derek knows his shit. In the book, Derek shares his experience founding CD Baby — started as a hobby in 1998 and sold for $22 million a decade later.

3. It broke my brain.

You know that old adage that you need to know the rules before you break them? To understand just how revolutionary Derek’s advice is, you had to work in a corporate environment.

There’s one passage in particular that goes against all my experience working for other people.

Derek is explaining how he started delegating better. Essentially, when an employee had a question, Derek brought everyone together. He answered the question and then explainied the thought process and philosophy behind his answer.

It gets better, but let’s stop here. Have you ever worked in an office? How many times did your boss explain their though process to you?

A couple, right?

Derek did this every time. For two months.

Two months.

In the first instance, the question was: “Derek, someone whose CDs we received yesterday has now changed his mind and wants his CDs shipped back. We’ve already done the work, but he’s asking if we can refund his setup fee since he was never live on the site.”

Derek’s response is something I never heard in all my years as an employee.

“Yes, refund his money in full. We’ll take a little loss. It’s important to always do whatever would make the customer happiest, as long as it’s not outrageous. A little gesture like this goes a long way toward him telling his friends we’re a great company. Everyone always remember that helping musicians is our first goal, profit is second.” (emphasis mine)

Always? Helping first, profit second?

As if.

When the various companies I worked for were asked to refund money or reduce charges, there was always much gnashing of teeth. Meetings. Phone calls. Peope storming around angrily.

And it sinks in. When I read this, my jaw tightened. I’ve obviously internalized some of this stuff.

If you read Derek’s book and dont feel your jaw clench at least once, congratulations. You haven’t been poisoned. That sounds facetious, but I mean it.

We are on the precipice of a new economic model. Capitalism is evolving.

And people like Derek are the pace-makers.

“To have something is the means, not the end. To be something is the real point. When you sign up to run a marathon, you don’t want a taxi to take you to the finish line.”

I — and everyone who works with me from here on out — owe you our deepest thanks for the reminder.


9 Extraordinary Books

Some books, like the series I just finished, are wonderful at taking you away. I love losing myself for hours at a time, and my dreams even become more vivid when I’m engrossed in a good story.

Others matter whether they’re fun to read or not. Instead of losing yourself in them, they become a part of how you understand and interact with the world. I’m always looking for books like this.

Although no two are alike — some humorous, others dry, fiction, nonfiction and even a play — my entire worldview is contained within 9 books. Sharing this list feels a bit like lifting my skirts. Now you’ve seen my ankles. ;)

In no particular order.

1. Guns, Germs and Steel: One of the most interesting books I’ve ever read. It was fascinating to learn how simple environment/geography conferred some tribes massive advantages. Did you know that there were no native animals in South America that could be domesticated? As a result, Eurasians had this unique advantage in creating settled civilizations as well as in developing immunities to deadly germs. Crazy.

2. Life is a DreamI’m cheating a little, because this is a play. But I read it, in Spanish, so it counts.

“¿Qué es la vida? Un frenesí. ¿Qué es la vida? Una ilusión, una sombra, una ficción, y el mayor bien es pequeño: que toda la vida es sueño, y los sueños, sueños son.”


3. A Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man: True story. In my junior year of college, I took an entire semester on James Joyce. One night, my friend needs a ride to prompt care. I have a car, so I take her. She goes in, and I read A Portrait while I wait — and I have my first and only panic attack. By the time I finished the book, I was an atheist.

4. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: If A Portrait turned me away from religion, the Seven Habits gave me a framework for my value system. The book is heavily influenced by Christian principles, but the guidance it offers in defining what you want out of life – how you want to be remembered – was invaluable in helping me reconcile my personal life with the professional.

Here’s the personal mission statement I developed 5 years ago; the first time I read Seven Habits. I wouldn’t change a thing.
A Snapshot of My Personal Mission Statement

5. The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant: I am a huge fan of Dan Savage, the controversial sex columnist. Even so, I never anticipated how good this book would be. Reading it, I wanted a kid of my own for the first time. Fortunately, the feeling passed.

6. The Handmaid’s Tale: Ok, I’m cheating again. This book didn’t truly influence my thinking, but it is representative. Also, I’m addicted to dystopian fiction and want to write a novel in this style.

7. Stumbling Upon HappinessThis book is all about the science of happiness – and how humans are shockingly bad at predicting what will make us happy. Have you seen the argument that having kids actually decreases parents’ overall happiness? That’s from this book. If you read the book, the assertion is both less controversial and more complex than it sounds. It’s totally fascinating.

8. The Gifts of Imperfection: I’ve written about this book before — in fact, it’s one of my favorite posts on this site. Read it here.

9. In Defense of Food: So…the husband and I became vegetarians 4 months ago. This is the book that set us on the path — and why you’ll never find Doritos in my pantry.

If you were to make a similar list, what would you include?

Between Virtue and Vice

I’m not supposed to be reading right now.

When I was a kid, I was always in trouble for reading late at night. I’d leave the bathroom light on, which was bright and close enough to my bedroom door to let me sneak a book. Sometimes, I’d get caught, and I even was grounded over it once.

In school, too, I got in trouble for “reading ahead.” Like that’s a bad thing.

Yep. I am a HUGE NERD. This is what happens when your mom teaches you to read before you start pre-school and your dad reads you The Old Man and the Sea instead of Goodnight Moon. You get grounded for reading.

And then you grow up and major in creative writing, because lit is just too easy.

When I got to college, I learned that literary analysis wasn’t done the way we learn it in school. All the Class, what is the symbolism of the forest? stuff is so 100 years ago.

In college, we ripped apart texts — and contexts. It’s like learning to read all over again. Debating Which social constructs inform this text? in place of What does the green light mean? I actually prefer this line of analysis, even if I had my first and only panic attack reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man alongside Foucault and Derrida.

As if this weren’t bad enough, I also tend towards the obsessive.

If I start a book, I can’t put it down until I finish it. And god help us if that book is in a series.

That’s where I made the mistake this weekend.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction. I’m sick of it. I’m also sick of thinking all the damn time.

So, I decided to read something fluffy. A series. And now I’m staying up til 3 a.m., when I finally drop my Kindle and fall asleep.  When I wake, it’s an act of enormous discipline to get out of bed, get dressed and all that, instead of just picking my Kindle back up again. The fact that I’m writing this and I got some work done today — it’s some kind of miracle.

Because I’ve just started the third book in the series.

Guys, I started A Song of Ice and Fire this weekend. I’m already on book three. To put this in context, the first book is 800+ pages.

I don’t tend to read a lot of fantasy, although I’m all for a departure from reality. My favorite author is Margaret Atwood. I also like Joyce Carol Oates. If you’ve read them, you just learned something new about me.

Anyway, back to the reading.

I mean, literally, I’m off to go read some more.